At the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, May 7, City Manager Jim Scholl will announce what is next for him — his contract with the city is up in July. Though Scholl will offer a contract extension option, the city has stayed mum on who his successor might be.
“I have always said it is incumbent to conduct a national search, including considering those candidates already working for the city — and several have expressed interest,” said Mayor Teri Johnston. “We need someone who can have influence in Tallahassee and in D.C.”
Scholl isn’t the only one who may — or may not — be leaving soon. A number of familiar faces at City Hall are either nearing the end of their tenure because of contract or term limits, or are part of the city’s DROP program.
While retirement numbers for the city have fluctuated in recent years, with the highest being 12 in 2016, participation in the DROP program has increased.
An employee who enters the Deferred Retirement Option Program has a maximum of five years before retirement. Patti McLaughlin, IT director and general pension administrator, said 14 city workers are up for retirement in the DROP program this year, compared to previous years with usually half that number.
“The concern with DROP is that there isn’t a formalized succession program in the city,” said Johnston. “It creates a knee-jerk reaction.”
McLaughlin said, “We have Senior Deputy City Clerk Sue Harrison leaving in June, and Cemetery Supervisor Russell Britton soon after.” City Clerk Sheri Smith entered a year ago, while Deputy Finance Director Nancy Kielman has three more years in DROP.
A worker can enter the DROP program after 20 years with the city. In the DROP program, a certain percentage of the worker’s salary, approximately 6%, is invested, so that they have a lump sum after five years.
“But there is no choice: they must retire. It helps bring in different people and different salaries,” said McLaughlin.
Often, these are senior positions vacated. Notable city employees like KWPD Community Affairs Officer Steve Torrence recently retired after having participated in the DROP program, and Police Chief Donie Lee retired last year. The city also has had expectant eyes on the commission seats held by long-time officials Jimmy Weekley, Clayton Lopez and Billy Wardlow, who are all serving their penultimate terms.
Said McLaughlin of the retirements, “You’re losing historical knowledge as well as experience, so that’s an issue. Those (city staff) positions will become available or management will decide if it’s necessary to fill them or to promote people.”
Johnston has expressed enthusiasm for getting young talent and new faces in City Hall, as well as expanding staff who deal with pressing issues like the city’s response to climate change.
“We are a city with a budget of $200 million, on the ground floor of rising sea levels,” Johnston said, “We need to look ahead to the next 50 to 75 years.”